The problem with the yuppie market is that once you’ve bought it, you have to keep paying for it.
If you don’t, they’ll just walk away. The proper fan, of course, won’t. That guy in the pub with me on Sunday will never walk away from Arsenal, but Arsenal walked away from him – that’s why he’s in the pub.
Proper football fans, the ones whose parents parents were fans of Arsenal (or whoever), have been priced out of stadia across the country. Where the stadium is new and plush, and Arsenal’s is – very, their pricing out has been especially calculated. Whole swathes of seats at The Emirates are season ticketed out to corporations and businessmen – whose employees, clients and acquaintances may or may not fill them. This results, both, in the number of proper fans able to access the ground being limited and a downgrading of the experience for those who do (and, if Nasri and Fabregas are to be believed, for the players too).
This, while the team is playing attractive football, is fine. Like film and theatre, Arsenal were able to package football as an hour and a half’s worth of aesthetic and cultural pleasure. They may not have won any trophies, but only proper fans are really bothered about those – but they don’t come any more, and they’ll keep buying the shirts anyway.
For a time Arsenal were playing exceptionally attractive football. Moreover, they were playing the type of attractive football which looks great on TV, in a stadium which looks great on TV.
The plan was working, and just in time to export the club into all those new markets the foreign TV rights were opening up. The summer tour of Asia showed that the club has ‘broken new ground in the East’ (or something) and, although this video suggests that isn’t too hard to do, the move to Ashburton Grove has been instrumental in that.
Having upgraded the stadium though, you need to (as the opening of this piece states) continue to upgrade elsewhere.
Your new fans abroad will be even more desperate for this, since their reason for sticking with you is even more fleeting (even if their fervour is greater) than is that of the lot you seduced over here. This bunch, with their smart jobs and jazzy suits or stupid haircuts and football blogs, aren’t going to keep turning up if the product starts to diminish.
(The proper fans would, if they could afford it – but they probably can’t, you’ve seen to that already).
Keeping them interested requires constant progress and occasional rejuvenation. This is how the entertainment industry works. Even the RSC knows that, which is why they occasionally cast ‘box office’ names like David Tennant, even though they know he’ll have the Dane butchered long before the denouement.
There is no place for ideology in this (you turned the ideology of the club into flats remember?), you simply have to keep up with the market now. This is why Arsenal have to spend money. Wenger is perfectly entitled to decree that he has the ability within his squad to compete, he might even be right, but it doesn’t matter any more.
It doesn’t matter because if he doesn’t invest in rejuvenation, probably in high profile rejuvenation, people will, instead of buying the latest set of advertisement-clothing, swallowing an incredible 6.5% ticket price hike and turning up to watch a lesser team (albeit one with a healthier bank balance – NO ONE CARES ABOUT FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY) compete for even lesser spoils, simply not bother any more.
(The booing which has become a feature of English football in general, but has been especially acute at Arsenal, is a manifestation of this. Proper fans don’t boo their team, bored yuppies do).
Maybe some people will still bother, if ticket prices get lowered, but who knows if Arsenal ever had 60,000 proper fans anyway.
As for me, I’m sticking with Arsene for a while yet. Though my patience is exhaustable, I still feel like I owe him and I’m a total sap. See how I’m getting on by following me on Twitter: @calumcm. Check back tomorrow for something else from Graham.